“Logistics robots will become standardized parts like motors, ready to be used in various industries in the next five years,” said Xia Huiling, founder and CEO of intelligent sorting robot developer Libiao Robotics, at the Beyond Expo tech conference held in Macau on Friday.

In agreement was Zhu Junda, CEO of smart warehouse systems and equipment developer HC Robotics, when asked to predict the five-year outlook for the industry. “Warehouse and logistic robots should be widely-used tools with low thresholds for adoption,” he said. 

The panel was co-organized by GLP, a global investor and business operator in logistics, real estate, and infrastructure.

The robotics industry always looks to the future, but the panelists adopted a very practical approach in judging the present success of a company: whether its products will create value for clients, in very concrete and quantitative ways. 

“The pursuit for efficiency is our foremost principle in making all decisions when developing a product,” said Xia. 

She explained her points with the case of Uniqlo. After adopting sorting robots developed by Libiao Robotics in a warehouse with daily shipment capacity of more than 400,000 parcels per day, the Japanese garment retailer shortened the time from receiving an order online to delivering it from warehouses from eight hours to three hours. The number of staff was reduced by 75% and all the new warehouse employees only need one day of training before starting to work. 

“Value creation is only meaningful through these figures,” she said.

“The robotics industry may have a fancy aura surrounding it. But in essence, it’s still a business about moving things around. The core problem we are addressing now is how to move goods from one place to another at higher efficiency and lower costs, and to store more goods within fixed space,” said Zhu of HC Robotics. The company develops automated and modular storage shelves and warehouse management system solutions.

He Wenzhong, new energy special assistant to CEO at GLP, said the key for future success in logistics robots will be building a decentralized logistics network in order to remove the repetitive work resulting from a system that relies on big and centralized distribution hubs. 

Zhao Yue, chairman of smart logistics solution provider Seer Group, said the key for success is to build an ecosystem that connects every link along the industrial chain to create synergistic effects. Zhao’s company develops software solutions including controllers, logistics digitalization, and visual AI. Zhao referred to Seer’s products as the “smart brains” for logistics robots. Seer’s software solutions are used by more than 600 automatic hardware companies worldwide, said Zhao.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.